His daughter knew he had cheated. Would she ever be able to forgive him? Blood Land.
May 7, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
Chapter 8 – 2
“Tell me about her,” Pruett said.
“I thought she was the love of my life. I’ve since decided there is no such thing,” Hanson said.
“Maybe not for some. For me, there was only one.”
“Did your wife accept you for who you are?” Hanson asked.
“And then some,” Pruett said. “But for me, it was hard living up to her expectations.”
“Bethy loved me pure. It was me who could never accept who I was.”
“May I ask you something personal, Sheriff?”
“I’d say we’ve passed that marker,” Pruett said.
“With all due respect to your wife departed, why would you stray from one who was the only light in your life?”
“I thought we were talking about love,” Pruett said. “There’s a lot of ways to give a man light.”
“So yours was a physical weakness?”
“Not only. Jesse was more like me. Flawed. My wife, she was of the finest stock; all color and clarity. With Jesse it was more like giving in to my own self. I didn’t have to live up to her.”
“I thought you said you’d forgotten her name,” Hanson said.
“Man’s memory has a funny way of waking back up to join the party, doesn’t it?”
“That it does.”
“Mind telling me about your transgressions?” Pruett said.
“My wife and I married at thirty. When we met, I thought I’d found my other half. The thing is, marriages aren’t challenged in the good years. Like a well-built bridge. You can stand on it, drive over it—it’s sturdy, you can feel that. But when the hurricane comes, that’s when the engineering gets tested. That’s when you know if the stanchions are sunk deep enough; that’s how the true tensile strength of love is measured.”
“So what was your storm, Professor?”
“Same as yours. Thing is, I was unfaithful one time. One single time. And this woman, who loved me without condition, could not find it in her heart to forgive me.”
“And so it ended.”
“Brutally, I’m afraid. She has not spoken to me since.”
“May I share an observation, all respect intended?” Pruett said.
“Like you said, we’re long past such concerns,” Hanson said, finishing his drink.
“We ain’t built the same, us and the gentler sex. Wired differently. That said, if she really loved you, she’d have stayed. You said it yourself: the tensile got tested. It was found wanting. In the big scheme, you were likely better off, all things known.”
“I’ve tried to convince myself of that very thing.”
“How’s that worked out for you then?” Pruett said.
“Until I met Wendy, not particularly well.”
“Hmm,” Pruett said.
“I love her,” Hanson said, motioning for another glass.
Pruett turned and looked at him. “How the hell old are you?”
“Fifty-seven,” Hanson told him.
“Jesus,” Pruett said. “You fight in ‘Nam?”
Hanson shook his head. “I was in school. Deferred. If not for the deferral, I probably would have skipped to Canada.”
Pruett thought for a moment. “Time was I would have punched you for that. Called you a coward. No more. You were the smart one, Professor.”
“Never really felt like that,” said Hanson.
“War is not favorable to those who wage it,” Pruett said. “A circular hell, Professor.”
“Still, I have thought many times that I should have learned that lesson for myself,” Hanson admitted.
“So it’s love?” the sheriff said.
“Yes,” Hanson said.
“Hellacious love, Sheriff.”
Pruett lifted his impotent glass. “Only kind.”
* * *
Patrolman James Pruett loved his wife. The life they’d carved out in Wyoming was a good one, and Bethy was the kind of woman for whom men pined. But ten years of heavy drinking eroded the will. It made a man feel invincible, as if the laws of others applied not to him.
At fourteen, Wendy Pruett already questioned her father’s merit as a man. More than most teens. She was idealistic, and he was a cop who fought in the unpopular war. So, like any good drunk, Pruett did what he could to screw it up even more.
Jesse Claremont taught seventh grade at Wind River Middle School. She was young and pretty and she spent as many nights at the Cowboy Bar as James Pruett. While Sam and Bethy were at home, Pruett got to know Jesse. First it was just drinks at the bar and friendly flirtation. But things progressed. Soon it was two or three nights a week, all the drinking at Jesse’s tiny one bedroom house in town. The sex was good. It seemed to revitalize Pruett, but then—at that time in his life—he was bulletproof. His own disease convinced him he could have it all. The booze, Jesse, and his wonderful life at home.
Wind River, like most small towns, allowed very few secrets. And Pruett was a cop. He knew better than anyone how word traveled. Pruett ignored the obvious. He and Jesse carried on in what they convinced themselves was secret. Until one night Pruett’s daughter confronted him, standing stoically at the foot of his mistress’s bed.
“You fucking shit,” Pruett’s only child had said. She did not cry; she would not give her father the satisfaction. But it was the last thing she said to him.
* * *
Wendy Steele waited nervously for her father. The Wrangler Cafe was teeming with men and women loading up on breakfast and coffee before jobs interrupted their days. Sheriff Pruett walked in and found her in the back corner of the restaurant. He waved, removed his hat, and tried to make his way through the crowd, stopping occasionally to shake a hand or pat a back.
“Sorry I’m behind,” he said as he took a chair up next to her at the square table. He placed a checkered napkin in his lap.
“No worries,” Wendy said. “I ordered us some coffee. Hope you still drink it.”
“I do,” said the sheriff. “Probably more than is healthy, though they change their minds on that daily it seems.”
“True enough,” she said as the coffee arrived.
“Morning, Sheriff,” the server said.
“Angie. Keeping you jumping, I see,” Pruett said.
“Oh yeah,” Angie Hittle said, looking around the room. “Since the boom, we can’t empty the place. It’s good seeing you, Wendy. You let me know when y’all are ready to order.”
They drank their coffee and spoke politely.
“Town has changed a lot,” Wendy said.
“Towns do. This one more than most, though.”
“Not as quiet as it used to be.”
“No,” Pruett said.
“Jay says you talked the other night,” Wendy said.
The sheriff nodded. “Yep. Nice enough guy.”
“But,” Wendy said.
“No buts. Nice enough guy. That’s it.”
Angie returned and took their orders.
“Can I ask you something?” Wendy said.
“All these years, did you even miss me?”
“Jesus, Wendy, what do you think?”
“You never called, never wrote. Mom did, sent cards. I don’t even remember what your handwriting looks like, you know?”
“You left, Wendy. I know I screwed up, but you remember, I tried to get you to talk to me. Even after you were gone. After a while…”
“After a while you gave up?”
“After a while, I guess my pride said I wasn’t going to grovel anymore. I got sober.”
“What about the twelve steps? Amends and all that?”
“I wrote you a letter. I could just never bring myself to send it. You hurt me, too, girl. There was a time you were everything to me.”
“You can’t lay it all on me like that, Sheriff.”
“No, I can’t. And I’m not. Just telling you where I was at.”
“Fair enough,” Wendy said.
The breakfast arrived and they ate in silence. Afterward, Pruett asked if she’d ride with him to the town park.
“We used to sit on this bench,” Pruett said, as they sat down in front of Pine Creek.
“Better days,” Wendy said.
“I can’t make excuses, Wendy. I can’t change what I did to you or to your mother. I’d ask you to forgive me, like she did.”
“I will. I mean, I guess I have, Sheriff. These past few months have put a lot in perspective. I’ve missed you…”
Pruett put his arm around her narrow shoulders and she leaned into him. It felt good. Like they’d never parted. She fit perfectly against him, just as her mother had; it was as if they were both grooved to live permanently at his side.
Chapters of the serial are published Monday through Saturday.
You can learn more about R. S. Guthrie’s novels on his Amazon Author’s Page.